6 July, 2020

We are living with uncertainty moment to moment. Right now, the market is anxious for our views on the future of retail, on medium and long-term trends, on how it should adapt to meet change and what it can do to respond to the rapid rise of online sales. Many questions need to be answered so that future business plans can be written with confidence of success, and good prospects of maintaining profitable assets.

From the point of view of architecture, these are difficult questions and none of us has a crystal ball, but we are able to identify a series of critical actions and trends you should consider in new retail development or repositioning existing assets.

We’re increasingly talking about the experience that people will have inside the spaces we design rather than focusing on their technical or functional qualities.  “For what” is more important now than “how”.  Our design presentations are full of concepts like experience, flexibility, satisfaction, socialization, personalization, loyalty, sustainability, healthy living; so the great challenge we set ourselves is how to bring these ideas to life through design.

For this reason, each time we sit with CBRE’s Retail Development team to consider how to rejuvenate an existing retail asset, to give it new lease of life, we take as our touchstone the following ten commandments:

1) Above all, create flexible spaces, what we call ephemeral architecture, agile design that can be adapted quickly to changes in the market. We must create multipurpose buildings with the potential to contain many uses including retail, offices, residential and hotel spaces. 

2) Today everyone wants experiences and to satisfy them immediately. We must create those experiences in our buildings. Each corner must speak with a distinctive but common language and provide those tangible or intangible messages.

3) The most common criticism from the public is that that all shopping centers are the same. They all look alike, and they all contain the same shops. We must create differentiated spaces, rooted in the locality, the community and the culture to which they belong. If you can’t tell if you’re in Malaga or Shanghai, there is no real emotional connection with your own personal experience, no sense of belonging.  Solving that is the only way to generate feelings of ownership, familiarity and loyalty in the customer.

4) Sustainability is fundamental too.  Beyond the primary objective of creating green buildings, which use resources and materials efficiently, it’s vital to consider the broadest applications of sustainability by looking outside the property boundary to sustainable transport, promoting local businesses and looking at the supply chain and logistics. 

5) Healthy Life. We need our centers to provide spaces for visitors who use alternative means of transport like bicycles, segways or scooters.  This means specialist secure parking spaces, on-site hire or repair and access to showers, storage and changing. It’s this type of facility that contributes to making a distinctive and differentiated experience.

6) We were talking about flexible spaces, but we must also create spaces to socialize, spaces to share experiences, to make a community. Coworking spaces, where ideas can be exchanged, projects take place, knowledge shared and most importantly people can come together to collaborate.

7) We need to find ways to attract Millennials. Urban Art spaces, adventure sports and experiences will appeal to that cohort but it needs to be handled in a subtle way. Taste and habits change, so adaptability is the key, above all a curated, ever changing experience will help build longer term engagement and loyalty.

8) The digital world is evident in every aspect of our lives now. Digital screens are increasingly used in retail settings, in shop windows and in public areas both advertising and with sensory content.  We are fast reaching digital collapse, a point of digital saturation where we have to be increasingly creative in integrating digital technology into architecture. The digital experience has to stop shouting and needs to be subtle, supportive and personal to accompany us on our visit.

9) Let's avoid “patchwork”. When we design a shopping center or refashion an older asset, we ensure the “new experience” we’re creating is consistent and breathes the same design language everywhere. Consistency and simplicity will make the final product successful and enduring over time.

10) And finally a topic that is on everyone’s agenda right now, logistics.  How to solve the last mile of deliveries.  Here’s a prediction that might help, it’s about how private transport will change. Perhaps private car ownership will endure but it’s equally likely that car clubs, shared vehicle use, or autonomous cars will lead to a change in vehicle numbers visiting shopping centers, leaving thousands of unused parking spaces. Perhaps now is the time to think about designing centers with less parking or consider whether the surplus land could be used to solve the challenge of last mile logistics.

How nice it would be to have a crystal ball!

We can summarize these ten points in one. Be empathetic; if we put ourselves in the shoes of the many different visitors who will use the spaces we design, and think about what we’d expect of our environment, then we can create spaces where the most important thing is the visitor.